2010 feels a lot like the Reagan era1. The economy’s in the shitter. Libertarians2 and the like are dominating the political discourse. The difference between the haves and have-nots is embarrassingly large, yet the have-nots are garnering all the blame. Things generally suck right now.
The music of that time spoke to this sense of impending doom3. The hardcore scene spoke to the frustration and paranoia of the working class. Jangly, angst-ridden college rock from Manchester spoke to the fears of the educated. And the music was good because of this uneasiness. There was an urgency that spoke to the last days before nuclear annihilation. More importantly, there was a dissatisfaction with the whole deal.
The Soft Pack4 deliver the discontent with their self-titled LP, channeling the words of Westerberg, Minutemen politic, voice of Lou Reed5, Rollins’ urgency, and Joy Division-like darkness6. The band gets at the dissatisfaction in the air with this record like the musicians of the hardcore 80’s did in their time7. Of course, as the picture of who has brought this blight upon us8 clarifies, so does the sound. Gone are screaming vocals hidden beneath a tidal wave of guitars-turned-to-eleven. Still, the tradition of ferocity and velocity of drums and guitar are very, very present.
Malcontentment is all over this record. The exasperation of unsuccessfully urging others to join your fight describes one of the most frustrating experiences one can have (“C’mon”). It’s especially frustrating when such simple, rudimentary appeals to emotion elicit such fervor while reason and logic are discarded as simultaneously elitist and transparent9.
There’s a negativity toward the good in the world (“Down on Loving”). How can we be so happy with mediocrity all the time? Things are not good just because people think they’re happy.
Mortality is realized only as one looks to grow self-reliant (“Answer to Yourself”). You figure out that the only one you can depend on is yourself. the irony is that you won’t be around long enough to fulfill your potential10.
There’s both the dissatisfaction of where we live11 (“Move Along”) and being a part of something larger than one’s surroundings (“Pull Out”12). It’s a classic contradiction. I hate where I’m living11, but I don’t want to live anywhere else. The grass is greener over there, but I’ll put a fence up so that I don’t have to look at it.
The disgusting over-consumption and selfishness of the rich is called out (“More or Less”). Of course, the term “rich” is relevant. It could mean the über-rich who lament the taxes they pay and the constant fight to keep the poor out. It could also address the consumption of Americans in general. We are a rich and wasteful people.
The dissatisfaction turns sad as the album moves toward its end. The complacency surrounding everyday unsolved murder mysteries is sadly recreated (“Tides of Time”). The energy folks waste arguing over this life while deaths go unexplained day after day is a bit sickening. If it could happen to anyone, it could happen to me. Will I be forgotten13?
A call to arms theme returns since the first track (“Flammable”). The band moves from waiting for others to join the fight into action to burning everything in their path. Just give me a reason and I’ll burn you.
Nothing’s more depressing than the end to a relationship. It’s even worse when it just sort of ends, one person moves on to the next part of their life. The other poor bastard is the one left behind and doesn’t put up a fight14 (“Mexico”).
And maybe the biggest bringers of disgust can be found in the hangers-on, freeloaders, even sycophants (“Parasites”). Some of us live for others to follow every word we sputter15. Even then, we despise these admirers who can’t think critically and take us for who we are16. On the other hand, there are those who can see through the worship to a parasite’s true, pathetic nature. It turns us off from hero-worship, religion, and political zealotry. It causes us to question humanity in general. How can so many of us be so stupid?
Truth be told, I am dissatisfied. That’s maybe why this record spoke to me so clearly. It could also be why I’ve interpreted the message so negatively. But this is what I want from music. I want it to recognize my disillusionment with my station in life. I want to know that someone else feels that way too. Then the dissatisfaction I feel is satisfyingly real, even legitimate.
The Soft Pack makes me feel not so alone the way The Replacements and Afghan Whigs with their own miserable lives expressed in song once did. Sometimes I need a record to remind me, to pinch me. That is what The Soft Pack did for me. If you want to feel happy and good about life, listen to The Black-Eyed Peas or Miley Cyrus17. If you want to feel alive and present, listen to a band like The Soft Pack. Dissatisfaction is guaranteed.
1Except, of course, we have a black guy as president. That’s a pretty striking difference.
2Read “tea-baggers” here, but there were no tea-baggers back then, or at least they were in the bath houses. I’m mostly getting at rich, white dudes who want to keep their money so they appeal to a socially conservative agenda to get their way.
3Sans the ghastly pop and hair metal that dominated the charts at the time. I’m referring to the bubbling underground of hardcore scenes and college campuses. Although, maybe all that bad music spoke more to our doomed futures than anything played on your college radio station. If you’re still reading this footnote, you have clearly realized that I have digressed.
4Formerly The Muslims. I wonder why they changed their name?
5I’m thinking more Velvet Underground era, not Berlin and beyond.
6With some New Order jangles sprinkled throughout.
7Except that The Soft Pack have the advantage of the Internet and the groundwork those seminal groups laid.
8I’m talking the disgustingly rich and greedy corporations here.
9Obama suffers and succeeds because of both. W only appealed to the emotions of his base.
10Look at any number of rock stars who died in their prime, usually at the age of 27.
11I once blogged this point into the ground. Maybe you’ve read that blog.
12This song so reminds me of Pavement’s “Two States,” but instead of splitting California into north and south, The Soft Pack support the state’s succession from the union.
13I often have visions of dying too soon due to an aneurysm, randomly driving off the side of the road, or both. I just wanted that to be somewhere in writing. Is that morbid?
14This once happened to me. I was left behind, but don’t worry. I was well over the relationship for a while as my girlfriend had been planning her exodus for several months. So, it’s cool.
15To subscribe, look under “Daddy’s Work” to the right. Click on “Entries RSS” and take me to your reader.
16This does not refer to you, dear reader.
17This is how out-of-touch I am with mainstream music. Should I have used Lady Gaga instead?